A defiant Mick McCarthy is refusing to give up on his Euro 2020 dream after seeing the Republic of Ireland come up just short in their showdown with Denmark.
Monday night’s 1-1 draw at the Aviva Stadium means it is the Danes who progress automatically along with Switzerland, leaving Ireland to battle their way through the play-offs in March.
McCarthy will not know who his team will face in the semi-finals until Tuesday – Slovakia or Wales seem the most likely opposition – but he is convinced they will give anyone a game if they play like they did in their final Group D fixture.
He said: “I have three months to prepare for that. We’ll see who we get and I’ll plan for it when we get it.
“If we play the way we are playing and play as well as that against other teams, we can beat them.”
McCarthy’s men turned in arguably their best performance of the campaign, but ultimately could not get across the finishing line as Denmark held on in a grandstand finish in Dublin.
Ireland were building a head of steam when they were caught with a 73rd-minute sucker punch as Martin Braithwaite timed his run to perfection to stab Henrik Dalsgaard’s cross past the helpless Darren Randolph.
McCarthy, who had sent on striker Callum Robinson for midfielder Conor Hourihane just minutes earlier, said: “We shouldn’t have conceded it.
“It’s always a kick in the nuts when you concede, even more so when you’ve made a positive substitution and you’re trying to get something out of the game, trying to win the game.”
However, Matt Doherty’s first senior international goal with five minutes remaining set up a late onslaught during which the home side just could not find the deftness of touch to make the pressure count.
McCarthy added: “I am immensely proud of the players the way they performed tonight, and even more so when we went 1-0 down.
“But it was a poor goal to give away. Doc says it was his man, it was on him, but he has gone and scored the equaliser, so I will forgive him slightly.
“I was giving out to him about the goal and I forgot to congratulate him for the goal he scored, so I will go back in there and do that.
“I’m very disappointed, but very proud of the lads. They were great.”
Denmark boss Age Hareide, who famously guided his side to a 5-1 World Cup play-off victory in Dublin two years ago, admitted they were fortunate to get away with a sub-standard performance on their latest visit.
He said: “We didn’t play well at all. I don’t know what happened. A solid defensive play saw us through the first half. We got in front in the second half and eased off in terms of pressure.
“At the end after they scored, they put a lot of pressure on us. Ireland played well and if they keep going like that, they will probably come through the Nations League play-offs and qualify.”